North Carolina v Syracuse

No. 2 Syracuse’s zone stifles North Carolina’s offense for an easy win

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On paper, it appeared that unbeaten No. 2 Syracuse would have a huge advantage over North Carolina during Saturday’s ACC contest because of the Orange’s signature 2-3 zone going against a perimeter-scoring-starved Tar Heel team. But could you really count out North Carolina after wins over Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky earlier this season?

But the Tar Heels (10-6, 0-3) finally appeared sub par against a top-flight, ranked opponent as Syracuse (16-0, 3-0) cruised to a 57-45 win over North Carolina on Saturday at the Carrier Dome.

Despite shooting only 35 percent from the field, Syracuse maintained a double-digit lead for the entire second half because their 2-3 zone gave North Carolina fits. The Tar Heels struggled with the length and athleticism of the Syracuse zone and appeared discombobulated on many offensive possessions as North Carolina struggled with moving the ball from side-to-side and spacing the floor.

On the offensive end, Syracuse struggled to consistently knock down jumpers, but thanks to 15 offensive rebounds — and a stifling defense — Syracuse was never really challenged enough to have to score points. C.J. Fair (20 points), Trevor Cooney (10 points) and Tyler Ennis (10 points) combined to shoot 15-for-44 from the field, but a double-double from Jerami Grant (12 points, 12 rebounds) helped offset the poor shooting from Syracuse’s main scoring threats.

North Carolina falls to 0-3 in the ACC for the first time since 1996-97 and it matches their worst conference start in school history. Marcus Paige (17 points) and James Michael McAdoo (15 points) were the only Tar Heels to score more than four points and Paige struggled to a 4-for-13 start before making his final three field goal attempts as the game neared garbage time.

Syracuse’s offensive struggles are a tad concerning — especially Trevor Cooney’s 7-for-32 start from beyond the arc in ACC play — but it is very impressive that they cruised to a win in ACC play thanks to their defense.

Can North Carolina rebound after its rough ACC start? The Tar Heels did look okay on offense coming out of timeouts against the 2-3 zone, but when the Tar Heels had to fend for themselves in initiating the offense, they usually looked hopeless. They’ll need someone else to step up on the offensive end besides Paige and McAdoo if they hope to continuing beating top teams.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.